from The Theosophist Oct/Nov 1975
Theosophy's Expanding Message
Even at the very beginning, the founders of the Theosophical Society believed that theirs was an organization with a message. They were eager themselves to learn; but what they learned they were resolved to pass on. The object of the Society was " To collect and diffuse a knowledge of the laws which governs the universe".
The first formulation of a message about the laws which govern the universe came from Madame Blavatsky. Among the early members there were several very talented people who had their own experiences of the psychics and psychological aspects of human life or who had pursued enough study in ancient and modern literatures to be confidently critical of accepted notions about various laws which wee supposed in those days to govern the universe. Nevertheless, it was Madame Blavatsky who came to stand before the public as the dominant voice of the newly founded movement.
There had been nothing in her past to suggest that she was capable of filling this kind of roles; but this was the part she was to play during the rest of her life. She herself in letters to her sister Madame Zhelihovsky and to Mll. Fadeyev, who, though her aunt, was almost her coeval, described the remarkable "psycho-physiological" change which took place in her early in 1875.
"How could it have happened", she wrote, "that I, whose learning was so awfully lame up to the age of forty, have suddenly become a phenomenon of learning in the eyes of people who are really learned? Just fancy that I, who never had the slightest idea about physics or chemistry or zoology or anything else, have now suddenly become able to write whole dissertations about them".
Colonel Olcott, too, had been instructed about this development in one of the early Serapis series of letters, which are perhaps too little considered nowadays, being overshadow in interest for many by the later M. and K. H letters to A. P. Sinnett. Col Olcott was instructed, with regard to his colleague, "to being her our before the world in her true light, nor of an adept but of an intellectual writer, and devote yourself both to work together the articles dictated to her. Make her work, install her, lead her in practical life as she must lead you in spiritual.". It must certainly have been something of a surprise to the Colonel at the time to learn of the prospect of her figuring as an "intellectual writer".
The first major product of Madame Blavatsky's new way of life as an author was Isis Unveiled. All the last sixteen years of her life were devoted largely to producing a whole literature of books and articles, an enormous output, larger than some professional authors have been able to achieve in a lifetime, with The Secret Doctrine as its most monumental contribution, though she herself is credited with regarding The Voice of the Silence as more important.
With this body of literature there was also associated the privately circulated series of Mahatma letters and the early writings A. P. Sinnett based upon them. Other contributions came in the early writings of Mabel Collins, from whom came Light on the Path and who was for a while co-editor with Madame Blavatsky of Lucifer. Other contributions came from Indian members, including the writings of T. Subba Row and also Mohini Mohun Chatterjee's translation of the Viveka-Chudamani under the title The Crest Jewel of Wisdom. Also came books and articles from many others with specialist capacities of various kinds.
Here then was indeed a message, a huge body of literature, inspires and indeed irradiated by quite a new outlook on life, or by an outlook that had been lost and had to be rediscovered. The values of the contemporary world with regard to many matters were questioned or bluntly rejected. A space was cleared in which a different quality of human life could emerge.
When something new comes into human society, however, it becomes inevitably the subject of an automatic effort to "place" it, to reconcile it with existing and accepted values. Thus the message of Theosophy on human brotherhood was toned down by many, in both east and west, when it began to disturb their existing structures of habit and attitude with regard to "race, creed, sex, cast or colour". But the strongest psychological protective device used against the message of Theosophy was that of treating it all as matter of speculative thought - interesting thought, meritorious and praiseworthy thought, but nevertheless thought - something to be studied and discussed, something about which it was proper to have one's ideas and opinions but which need not very deeply affect the actual conduct or quality of life. There was here, too, a further protective device in the fact that the mind can convince us that our "thoughts" are affecting our lives and conduct quite profoundly when they are having only a shallow effect.
All this was foreseen within the content of the message itself. Again and again we are given explanations of the constitution of man which show the true roots of human nature as taking their rise at a level of being that is deeper than what we choose to describe as mind. True mind is indicated in theosophical literature, not as the personal image-making and image-retaining faculty of the individual, but as one and universal. There is therefore an incompleteness, and at worst a great falsity, about the conclusions reached and the values created by the discursive personal mind of the individual. His is the mind described in The Voice of the Silence as "the great Slayer of the Real".
We "slay" the slayer by releasing it from its fixation to segregated personality and letting it return consciously to the universal state from which it unconsciously emerged. The condition of the liberated mind is described in The Voice of the Silence - "His mind, like a becalmed and boundless ocean, spreadeth out in shoreless space." Patanjali describes the ending of illusory separateness from the Real by saying that for the yogi, the liberated individual, it comes about that the knower, knowledge and the known are experiences as one. This is the advaiti achievement, in which Cartesian dualism is outpassed.
The assertion of the underlying oneness of all, at the very heart of consciousness, runs all through the literature which attempts to give our the message of Theosophy. Where this assertion touches upon human attitudes it necessarily challenges and negates such attitudes as are a denial of unity, wearing them down and confronting them with their own paradoxes. As a discipline of the intellect, the message of Theosophy insist that wisdom can never be caught and held within any lasting structure of words and concepts. Such structures, like all systems built by the human mind, depend on comparison, segregation, analysis and other thought processes which requires separation, and so can have only a relative and passing truth.
Hence, even in its earliest years, the Theosophical Society officially dissociated itself from "all forms of dogmatic theology" and from any fixed intellectual position, any position which we could not describe today as "open-ended". In The Key to Theosophy, Madame Blavatsky wrote of the danger of the Society acquiring "hard and fast dogmas of its own", in which case it "will drift off onto some sandbank of thought or another, and thee remain a stranded carcass to moulder and die". But if it avoided this fate, it would "live on into and through the twentieth century. It will gradually leaven and permeate the great mass of thinking and intelligent people with its large-minded and noble ideas of religion, duty and philanthropy. Slowly but surely it will burst asunder the iron fetters of creeds and dogmas, of social and caste prejudices; it will break down racial and national antipathies and barriers, and will open the way to the practical realization of the brotherhood of all men".
Perhaps for most people this implies a restless dynamism which is disturbing. It may be necessary at times, even if the Society itself does not become a stranded carcass, at least to preserve within it a few stranded carcasses, departments where any agitated members may rest his troubled mind and stop living for a while!
When young Mr. C.W. Leadbeater joined the Society in London in 1883. on the same day as Sir William Crookes, and took part in its studies and discussions, he began, after some months, to feel the lack of dynamic movement in the organization he had joined. In his little book How Theosophy Came to Me, he tells how a stony silence fell one evening when he ventured to suggest to the members gathered in Mr. Sinnett's home that, if these things they were studying were true, it would seem right to try to take their lives in hand in such a way as to fit themselves to become pupils of the Masters of Wisdom. He had committed the social error of regarding Theosophy as an all embracing truth, to be discovered in living, rather than as an interesting intellectual adjunct to cultured upper-class English social life.
Through a long subsequent life, Leadbeater pursued his experience of Theosophy in his own way. Others did likewise. How far they succeeded it is not for others to judge, for there is no external criterion of achievement. Only our own depth of experience can respond to the depth of experience can respond to the depth of experience from which another attempts to communicate with us.
Right from the beginning the greatest example of a theosophist allowing the message of Theosophy to work upon this life was the President-Founder himself. For Colonel Olcott the message of Theosophy released in him an immense capacity for human service and a deep all-embracing benevolence. It made him such an outstanding example of devoted human service that it probable made him a disturbing person to some others. The Sinnett circle in London was uneasy about the Colonel, just as it sometimes was uneasy about Madame Blavatsky.
The generation which followed the founders showed how the message of Theosophy could find expression far beyond books and lectures and explanations. Theosophy was demonstrated in action, in politics, in art, in poetry, in sacrament and ceremony, in many forms of service to people in need, in new practical approaches to the education of the young in work to mitigate the exploitation and suffering of animals, in efforts to create or preserve a better environment fro mankind.
The effort to offer an interpretative world picture did not cease. W.Q. Judge's The Ocean of Theosophy and Annie Besant's The Ancient Wisdom had many successors and imitators in the form of short books by many different writers, intended to present the reading public with a new world image or an explanation of life consonant with basic theosophical principles And the intellectual and more or les scholarly task of gathering together, from the history and literate s of the past, many indications of ancient Gnostic insights was carried on by G. R. S. Mead, A.E. Waite, Bhagavan Das and a number of others.
Affirmations of direct individual experiences of various kinds also seemed to give light and shadow to the notions which members and the public both acquired and discarded of what the occult infrastructure of our lives is really like. What is vividly and lyrically personal in attempts to communicate experience is both valuable and dangerous according to the attitudes with which it may be received by others and the uses to which it may be put.
All through the opening decades of the present century the message of Theosophy was still obscured for many by the human expectation that wisdom, even though described as formless in itself, must embody itself in specific forms, recognizable because they accorded with traditions and memories of the past. No one contributed so much at that time to bringing about a release from this habit of thought as J. Krishnamurti. Form his impact upon members of the Theosophical Society there arose fro them many questions of the kind that can never be answers by another person, or even by one part of a divided self addressing itself to another part. Who is it that gives or receives any message? Who or what recognizes and responds to wisdom, truth or beauty?
When integrity and purpose were thus challenged, there emerged for a while a certain timidity in many members of the Society. If they could not themselves individually bring to authority that others half of itself which we call experience, dare they cite authority at all? From some the message of Theosophy became deprecatory and muted, as if they had to speak more as outsiders than as participants. Yet the discovery had been made and largely accepted that, as George Arundale put it, if there were thirty thousand members in the Society, there ought to be thirty thousand theosophies.
One might apply to Theosophy an image which Madame Blavatsky use in The Secret Doctrine in writing of that with which Theosophy is ultimately concerned. She wrote of "the One Sun whose rays we in our ignorance speak of as the individual monads of men". Theosophy is one living light which has always been there but which broke strongly through the clouds a century ago. Its rays are touching more and more of the landscape of our lives, revealing colours and contours never dreamed of a hundred years ago. That radiance can come only through individual expressions, only through people. Words in print are dead if none respond and bring to them the insights of deepened human experience. It is through human lives, through people, that the message of Theosophy has expanded, spread and acquired new meanings, and through people alone that it can pervade the world. It may incidentally be remembered that 1975 is the centenary not only of the Theosophical Society but also of C. Jinarajadasa, a past President of the Society who perhaps more than any other was fascinated by the huge potential of every human being as a light-bringer.
Today, as a hundred years ago, the message is to a large extent the messenger. The light goes unperceived without a light-bringer, many light-bringers. A light-bringer is the one who brings a living intuitive wisdom to a living situation of whatever kind, not necessarily giving that wisdom in words, but in insight, in response, in action, in quality of relationship with others. It is to aid one another to become better and more effective light-bringers that we join the Theosophical Society.
More Hugh Shearman